Edward Payson Roe.

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As the boy started on his errand his father stepped back out of the
light of the window, then followed the child with a great yearning in
his heart. He would make sure the boy was safe at home again before he
carried out his plan. From a distance he saw the little fellow receive
the coal and start slowly homeward with the burden, and he followed to
a point where the light of the street-lamps ceased, then joined the
child, and said in a gruff voice, "Here, little man, I'm going your
way. Let me carry your basket;" and he took it and strode on so fast
that the boy had to run to keep pace with him. Jamie shuffled along
through the snow as well as he could, but his little legs were so short
in comparison with those of the kindly stranger that he found himself
gradually falling behind. So he put on an extra burst of speed and
managed to lay hold of the long blue skirt of the army overcoat.

"Please, sir, don't go quite so fast," he panted.

The stranger slackened his pace, and in a constrained tone of voice,

"How far are you going, little man?"

"Only to our house - mamma's. She's Mrs. Marlow, you know."

"Yes, I know - that is, I reckon I do. How much further is it?"

"Oh, not much; we're most half-way now. I say, you're a soldier, aren't

"Yes, my boy," said Marlow, with a lump in his throat. "Why?"

"Well, you see, my papa is a soldier, too, and I thought you might know
him. We haven't heard from him for a good while, and - " choking a
bit - "mamma's afraid he is hurt, or taken prisoner or something." He
could not bring himself to say "killed."

Jamie let go the overcoat to draw his sleeve across his eyes, and the
big man once more strode on faster than ever, and Jamie began to fear
lest the dusky form might disappear in the snow and darkness with both
basket and coal; but the apparent stranger so far forgot his part that
he put down the basket at Mrs. Marlow's gate, and then passed on so
quickly that the panting boy had not time to thank him. Indeed, Anson
Marlow knew that if he lingered but a moment he would have the child in
his arms.

"Why, Jamie," exclaimed his mother, "how could you get back so soon
with that heavy basket? It was too heavy for you, but you will have to
be mamma's little man mow."

"A big man caught up with me and carried it. I don't care if he did
have a gruff voice, I'm sure he was a good kind man. He knew where we
lived too, for he put the basket down at our gate before I could say a
word, I was so out of breath, and then he was out of sight in a
minute." Some instinct kept him from saying anything about the army

"It's some neighbor that lives further up the street, I suppose, and
saw you getting the coal at the store," Mrs. Marlow said, "Yes, Jamie,
it was a good, kind act to help a little boy, and I think he'll have a
happier Christmas for doing it."

"Do you really think he'll have a happier Christmas, mamma?"

"Yes, I truly think so. We are so made that we cannot do a kind act
without feeling the better for it."

"Well, I think he was a queer sort of a man if he was kind. I never
knew any one to walk so fast. I spoke to him once, but he did not
answer. Perhaps the wind roared so he couldn't hear me."

"No doubt he was hurrying home to his wife and children," she said with
a deep sigh.

When his boy disappeared within the door of the cottage, Marlow turned
and walked rapidly toward the city, first going to the grocery at which
he had been in the habit of purchasing his supplies. The merchant
stared for a moment, then stepped forward and greeted his customer

"Well," he said, after his first exclamations of surprise were over,
"the snow has made you almost as white as a ghost; but I'm glad you're
not one. We scarce ever thought to see you again."

"Has my wife an open account here now?" was the brief response.

"Yes, and it might have been much larger. I've told her so too. She
stopped taking credit some time ago, and when she's had a dollar or two
to spare she's paid it on the old score. She bought so little that I
said to her once that she need not go elsewhere to buy; that I' d sell
to her as cheap as any one: that I believed you'd come back all right,
and if you didn't she could pay me when she could. What do you think
she did? Why, she burst out crying, and said, 'God bless you, sir, for
saying my husband will come back! So many have discouraged me.' I
declare to you her feeling was so right down genuine that I had to mop
my own eyes. But she wouldn't take any more credit, and she bought so
little that I've been troubled. I'd have sent her something, but your
wife somehow ain't one of them kind that you can give things to, and - "

Marlow interrupted the good-hearted, garrulous shopman by saying
significantly, "Come with me to your back-office"; for the soldier
feared that some one might enter who would recognize him and carry the
tidings to his home prematurely.

"Mr. Wilkins," he said rapidly, "I wanted to find out if you too had
thriftily shut down on a soldier's wife. You shall not regret your

"Hang it all!" broke in Wilkins, with compunction, "I haven't been very
kind. I ought to have gone and seen your wife and found out how things
were; and I meant to, but I've been so confoundedly busy - "

"No matter now; I've not a moment to spare. You must help me to break
the news of my return in my own way. I mean they shall have such a
Christmas in the little cottage as was never known in this town. You
could send a load right over there, couldn't you?"

"Certainly, certainly," said Wilkins, under the impulse of both
business thrift and goodwill; and a list of tea, coffee, sugar, flour,
bread, cakes, apples, etc., was dashed off rapidly; and Marlow had the
satisfaction of seeing the errand-boy, the two clerks, and the
proprietor himself busily working to fill the order in the shortest
possible space of time.

He next went to a restaurant, a little further down the street, where
he had taken his meals for a short time before he brought his family to
town, and was greeted with almost equal surprise and warmth. Marlow cut
short all words by his almost feverish haste. A huge turkey had just
been roasted for the needs of the coming holiday, and this with a cold
ham and a pot of coffee was ordered to be sent in a covered tray within
a quarter of an hour. Then a toy-shop was visited, and such a doll
purchased! for tears came into Marlow's eyes whenever he thought of his
child's offer to sell her dolly for her mother's sake.

After selecting a sled for Jamie, and directing that they should be
sent at once, he could restrain his impatience no longer, and almost
tore back to his station at the cottage window. His wife was placing
the meagre little supper on the table, and how poor and scanty it was!

"Is that the best the dear soul can do on Christmas Eve?" he groaned.
"Why, there's scarcely enough for little Sue. Thank God, my darling, I
will sit down with you to a rather different supper before long!"

He bowed his head reverently with his wife as she asked God's blessing,
and wondered at her faith. Then he looked and listened again with a
heart-hunger which had been growing for months.

"Do you really think Santa Claus will fill our stockings to-night?" Sue

"I think he'll have something for you," she replied. "There are so many
poor little boys and girls in the city that he may not be able to bring
very much to you."

"Who is Santa Claus, anyway?" questioned Jamie.

Tears came into the wife's eyes as she thought of the one who had
always remembered them so kindly as far as his modest means permitted.

She hesitated in her reply; and before she could decide upon an answer
there was a knock at the door. Jamie ran to open it, and started back
as a man entered with cap, eyebrows, beard, and shaggy coat all white
with the falling snow. He placed two great baskets of provisions on the
floor, and said they were for Mrs. Anson Marlow.

"There is some mistake," Mrs. Marlow began; but the children, after
staring a moment, shouted, "Santa Claus! Santa Claus!"

The grocer's man took the unexpected cue instantly, and said, "No
mistake, ma'am. They are from Santa Claus;" and before another word
could be spoken he was gone. The face of the grocer's man was not very
familiar to Mrs. Marlow, and the snow had disguised him completely. The
children had no misgivings and pounced upon the baskets and with,
exclamations of delight drew out such articles as they could lift.

"I can't understand it," said the mother, bewildered and almost

"Why, mamma, it's as plain as day," cried Jamie. "Didn't he look just
like the pictures of Santa Claus - white beard and white eyebrows? Oh,
mamma, mamma, here is a great paper of red-cheeked apples!" and he and
Susie tugged at it until they dragged it over the side of the basket,
when the bottom of the bag came out, and the fruit flecked the floor
with red and gold. Oh, the bliss of picking up those apples; of
comparing one with another; of running to the mother and asking which
was the biggest and which the reddest and most beautifully streaked!

"There must have been some mistake," the poor woman kept murmuring as
she examined the baskets and found how liberal and varied was the
supply, "for who could or would have been so kind?"

"Why, mommie," said little Sue, reproachfully, "Santa Claus brought
'em. Haven't you always told us that Santa Claus liked to make us

The long-exiled father felt that he could restrain himself but a few
moments longer, and he was glad to see that the rest of his purchases
were at the door. With a look so intent, and yearning concentration of
thought so intense that it was strange that they could not feel his
presence, he bent his eyes once more upon a scene that would imprint
itself upon his memory forever.

But while he stood there, another scene came before his mental vision.
Oddly enough his thought went back to that far-off Southern brookside,
where he had lain with his hands in the cool water. He leaned against
the window-casing, with the Northern snow whirling about his head; but
he breathed the balmy breath of a Southern forest, the wood-thrush sang
in the trees overhead, and he could - so it seemed to him - actually feel
the water-worn pebbles under his palms as he watched the life-blood
ebbing from his side. Then there was a dim consciousness of rough but
kindly arms bearing him through the underbrush, and more distinctly the
memory of weary weeks of convalescence in a mountaineer's cabin. All
these scenes of peril, before he finally reached the Union lines,
passed before him as he stood in a species of trance beside the window
of his home.

The half-grown boys sent from the restaurant and toy-shop could not be
mistaken for Santa Claus even by the credulous fancy of the children,
and Mrs. Marlow stepped forward eagerly and said:

"I am sure there is some mistake. You are certainly leaving these
articles at the wrong house." The faces of the children began to grow
anxious and troubled also, for even their faith could not accept such
marvellous good-fortune. Jamie looked at the sled with a kind of awe,
and saw at a glance that it was handsomer than any in the street "Mr.
Lansing, a wealthy man, lives a little further on," Mrs. Marlow began
to urge; "and these things must be meant - "

"Isn't your name Mrs. Anson Marlow?" asked the boy from the restaurant.


"Then I must do as I've been told;" and he opened his tray and placed
the turkey, the ham, and the coffee on the table.

"If he's right, I'm right too," said he of the toy-shop. "Them was my
directions;" and they were both about to depart when the woman sprang
forward and gasped: "Stay!"

She clasped her hands and trembled violently.

"Who sent these things?" she faltered.

"Our bosses, mum," replied the boy from the restaurant, hesitatingly.

She sprang toward him, seized his arm, and looked imploringly into his
face. "Who ordered them sent?" she asked in a low, passionate voice.

The young fellow began to smile, and stammered awkwardly, "I don't
think I'm to tell."

She released his arm and glanced around with a look of intense

"Oh, oh!" she gasped with quick short sobs, "can it be - " Then she
sprang to the door, opened it, and looked out into the black, stormy
night. What seemed a shadow rushed toward her; she felt herself
falling, but strong arms caught and bore her, half fainting, to a
lounge within the room.

Many have died from sorrow, but few from joy. With her husband's arms
around her Mrs. Marlow's weakness soon passed. In response to his deep,
earnest tones of soothing and entreaty, she speedily opened her eyes
and gave him a smile so full of content and unutterable joy that all
anxiety in her behalf began to pass from his mind.

"Yes," she said softly, "I can live now. It seems as if a new and
stronger life were coming back with every breath."

The young fellows who had been the bearers of the gifts were so touched
that they drew their rough sleeves across their eyes as they hastened
away, closing the door on the happiest family in the city.



Not very far from the Highlands of the Hudson, but at a considerable
distance from the river, there stood, one hundred years ago, a
farmhouse that evidently had been built as much for strength and
defence as for comfort. The dwelling was one story and a half in
height, and was constructed of hewn logs, fitted closely together, and
made impervious to the weather by old-fashioned mortar, which seems to
defy the action of time. Two entrances facing each other led to the
main or living room, and they were so large that a horse could pass
through them, dragging in immense back-logs. These, having been
detached from a chain when in the proper position, were rolled into the
huge fireplace that yawned like a sooty cavern at the farther end of
the apartment. A modern housekeeper, who finds wood too dear an article
for even the air-tight stove, would be appalled by this fireplace.
Stalwart Mr. Reynolds, the master of the house, could easily walk under
its stony arch without removing his broad-brimmed Quaker hat. From the
left side, and at a convenient height from the hearth, a massive crane
swung in and out; while high above the centre of the fire was an iron
hook, or trammel, from which by chains were suspended the capacious
iron pots used in those days for culinary or for stock-feeding
purposes. This trammel, which hitherto had suggested only good cheer,
was destined to have in coming years a terrible significance to the

When the blaze was moderate, or the bed of live coals not too ample,
the children could sit on either side of the fireplace and watch the
stars through its wide flue; and this was a favorite amusement of Phebe
Reynolds, the eldest daughter of the house.

A door opened from the living-room into the other apartments, furnished
in the old massive style that outlasts many generations. All the
windows were protected by stout oaken shutters which, when closed,
almost transformed the dwelling into a fortress, giving security
against any ordinary attack. There were no loopholes in the walls
through which the muzzle of the deadly rifle could be thrust and fired
from within. This feature, so common in the primitive abodes of the
country, was not in accordance with John Reynolds's Quaker principles.
While indisposed to fight, it was evident that the good man intended to
interpose between himself and his enemies all the passive resistance
that his stout little domicile could offer.

And he knew that he had enemies of the bitterest and most unscrupulous
character. He was a stanch Whig, loyal to the American cause, and,
above all, resolute and active in the maintenance of law and order in
those lawless times. He thus had made himself obnoxious to his Tory
neighbors, and an object of hate and fear to a gang of marauders, who,
under the pretence of acting with the British forces, plundered the
country far and near. Claudius Smith, the Robin Hood of the Highlands
and the terror of the pastoral low country, had formerly been their
leader; and the sympathy shown by Mr. Reynolds with all the efforts to
bring him to justice which finally resulted in his capture and
execution, and awakened among his former associates an intense desire
for revenge. This fact, well known to the farmer, kept him constantly
on his guard, and filled his wife and daughter Phebe with deep

At the time of our story, Phebe was only twelve years of age, but was
mature beyond her years. There were several younger children, and she
had become almost womanly in aiding her mother in their care. Her
stout, plump little body had been developed rather than enfeebled by
early toil, and a pair of resolute and often mirthful blue eyes bespoke
a spirit not easily daunted. She was a native growth of the period,
vitalized by pure air and out-of-door pursuits, and she abounded in the
shrewd intelligence and demure refinement of her sect to a degree that
led some of their neighbors to speak of her as "a little old woman."
When alone with the children, however, or in the woods and fields, she
would doff her Quaker primness, and romp, climb trees, and frolic with
the wildest.

But of late, the troublous times and her father's peril had brought
unwonted thoughtfulness into her blue eyes, and more than Quaker
gravity to the fresh young face, which, in spite of exposure to sun and
wind, maintained much of its inherited fairness of complexion. Of her
own accord she was becoming a vigilant sentinel, for a rumor had
reached Mr. Reynolds that sooner or later he would have a visit from
the dreaded mountain gang of hard riders. Two roads leading to the
hills converged on the main highway not far from his dwelling; and from
an adjacent knoll Phebe often watched this place, while her father,
with a lad in his employ, completed their work about the barn. When the
shadows deepened, all was made as secure as possible without and
within, and the sturdy farmer, after committing himself and his
household to the Divine protection, slept as only brave men sleep who
are clear in conscience and accustomed to danger.

His faith was undoubtedly rewarded; but Providence in the execution of
its will loves to use vigilant human eyes and ready, loving hands. The
guardian angel destined to protect the good man was his blooming
daughter Phebe, who had never thought of herself as an angel, and
indeed rarely thought of herself at all, as is usually the case with
those who do most to sweeten and brighten the world. She was a natural,
wholesome, human child, with all a child's unconsciousness of self. She
knew she could not protect her father like a great stalwart son, but
she could watch and warn him of danger, and as the sequel proved, she
could do far more.

The farmer's habits were well known, and the ruffians of the mountains
were aware that after he had shut himself in he was much like Noah in
his ark. If they attempted to burn him out, the flames would bring down
upon them a score of neighbors not hampered by Quaker principles.
Therefore they resolved upon a sudden onslaught before he had finished
the evening labors of the farm. This was what the farmer feared; and
Phebe, like a vigilant outpost, was now never absent from her place of
observation until called in.

One spring evening she saw two mounted men descending one of the roads
which led from the mountains. Instead of jogging quietly out on the
highway, as ordinary travellers would have done, they disappeared among
the trees. Soon afterward she caught a glimpse of two other horsemen on
the second mountain road. One of these soon came into full view, and
looked up and down as if to see that all was clear. Apparently
satisfied, he gave a low whistle, when three men joined him. Phebe
waited to see no more, but sped toward the house, her flaxen curls
flying from her flushed and excited face.

"They are coming, father! Thee must be quick!" she cried.

But a moment or two elapsed before all were within the dwelling, the
doors banged and barred, the heavy shutters closed, and the
home-fortress made secure. Phebe's warning had come none too soon, for
they had scarcely time to take breath before the tramp of galloping
horses and the oaths of their baffled foes were heard without. The
marauders did not dare make much noise, for fear that some passing
neighbor might give the alarm. Tying their horses behind the house,
where they would be hidden from the road, they tried various expedients
to gain an entrance, but the logs and heavy planks baffled them. At
last one of the number suggested that they should ascend the roof and
climb down the wide flue of the chimney. This plan was easy of
execution, and for a few moments the stout farmer thought that his hour
had come. With a heroism far beyond that of the man who strikes down
his assailant, he prepared to suffer all things rather than take life
with his own hands.

But his wife proved equal to this emergency. She had been making over a
bed, and a large basket of feathers was within reach. There were live
coals on the hearth, but they did not give out enough heat to prevent
the ruffians from descending. Two of them were already in the chimney,
and were threatening horrible vengeance if the least resistance was
offered. Upon the coals on the hearth the housewife instantly emptied
her basket of feathers; and a great volume of pungent, stifling smoke
poured up the chimney. The threats of the men, who by means of ropes
were cautiously descending, were transformed into choking,
half-suffocated sounds, and it was soon evident that the intruders were
scrambling out as fast as possible. A hurried consultation on the roof
ensued, and then, as if something had alarmed them, they galloped off.
With the exception of the cries of the peepers, or hylas, in an
adjacent swamp, the night soon grew quiet around the closed and
darkened dwelling. Farmer Reynolds bowed in thanksgiving over their
escape, and then after watching a few hours, slept as did thousands of
others in those times of anxiety.

But Phebe did not sleep. She grew old by moments that night as do other
girls by months and years; as never before she understood that her
father's life was in peril. How much that life meant to her and the
little brood of which she was the eldest! How much it meant to her dear
mother, who was soon again to give birth to a little one that would
need a father's protection and support! As the young girl lay in her
little attic room, with dilated eyes and ears intent on the slightest
sound, she was ready for any heroic self-sacrifice, without once
dreaming that she was heroic.

The news of the night-attack spread fast, and there was a period of
increased vigilance which compelled the outlaws to lie close in their
mountain fastnesses. But Phebe knew that her father's enemies were
still at large with their hate only stimulated because baffled for a
time. Therefore she did not in the least relax her watchfulness; and
she besought their nearest neighbors to come to their assistance should
any alarm be given.

When the spring and early summer passed without further trouble, they
all began to breathe more freely, but one July night John Reynolds was
betrayed by his patriotic impulses. He was awakened by a loud knocking
at his door. Full of misgiving, he rose and hastily dressed himself:
Phebe, who had slipped on her clothes at the first alarm, joined him
and said earnestly:

"Don't thee open the door, father, to anybody, at this time of night;"
and his wife, now lying ill and helpless on a bed in the adjoining
room, added her entreaty to that of her daughter. In answer, however,
to Mr. Reynolds's inquiries a voice from without, speaking quietly and
seemingly with authority, asserted that they were a squad from
Washington's forces in search of deserters, and that no harm would
ensue unless he denied their lawful request. Conscious of innocence,
and aware that detachments were often abroad on such authorized quests,
Mr. Reynolds unbarred his door. The moment he opened it he saw his
terrible error; not soldiers, but the members of the mountain gang,
were crouched like wild beasts ready to spring upon him.

"Fly, father!" cried Phebe. "They won't hurt us;" but before the
bewildered man could think what to do, the door flew open from the
pressure of half a dozen wild-looking desperadoes, and he was powerless
in their grasp. They evidently designed murder, but not a quick and

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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 25 of 26)